Earlier this week, a man in his 30s contacted Self-Help’s branch in Wilson, North Carolina about a mortgage loan. “Jake,” we’ll call him, talked to our branch manager, Adrian Dixon. “My credit score is all right,” Jake said, “but I can’t get approved for a mortgage and I don’t know why.”
Adrian offered to take a look at Jake’s situation. He spotted what other lenders hadn’t taken time to explain. Jake’s credit score is just above the typical qualifying limit, but he’s carrying a lot of debt. Jake has student loans that are deferred for the time being, but even though he isn’t paying them now, lenders must consider all debts in light of a future house payment. “Those student loans are standing between you and your house,” Adrian said.
In the past, Adrian or other staff members would have offered to work with Jake to help him develop a plan to become a homeowner, but now they have a new option. In the Wilson branch and also in Charlotte, NC, Self-Help is staffed with a full-time Financial Coach. These coaches are dedicated to working one-on-one with members to help empower them with the tools they need to manage their finances and take meaningful steps towards their financial goals. There is no charge for the service.
This coaching option, which will be rolled out in other Self-Help branches over time, reflects the kind of service that Self-Help has been providing all along. “Financial coaching is a natural extension of the guidance that Self-Help has always offered our members,” said Sonia Garrison, Financial Capability Project Manager based in Durham. “One thing that distinguishes us is that we don’t simply tell members whether they qualify for a loan. When they have questions, we take time to review their situation and help them map out a financial path to meet their goals.”
The transition to coaching was not a leap for Donnetta Collier, our Financial Coach in Charlotte. Before assuming her current role, she spent many years as a loan officer and also as a project manager in real estate development. Over and over, she saw people facing frustrating financial obstacles or struggling to navigate the ins and outs of money management. She realized that almost everyone can benefit from financial counseling.
“We focus on our members’ goals and help them see how to remove roadblocks.” Donnetta said. “We can show specific ways to stabilize and improve their credit scores and how to develop a spending plan that will reduce stress and help them get where they want to go. I don’t tell people what to do. Instead, I ask a lot of questions and offer actions they can consider.”
Adrian says the Wilson staff use the same approach, focusing on each member’s specific goals,and adds that we can often help members expand their idea of what is achievable. He points out that Jake, the man with the student loans, might possibly qualify for a mortgage now. “But we can help him understand that he can buy a better and more affordable home if he raises his credit score further, in addition to working on paying down debts.”
Our financial coaching service also involves ongoing guidance if the member wishes—not just a “one and done.” Coaches follow up and continue meeting as long as the client desires. And they look beyond the client’s numbers.
“A person’s finances aren’t just about money,” Donnetta said. “It’s about their hopes, their mistakes, the work they do, their family’s needs—everything. Finances are personal. By the time I finish working with someone and they meet their goals, I feel like I’m part of their family.”
Another advantage of Self-Help’s coaching is direct access to the tools members can use to be successful. “Many organizations have some kind of financial capability support,” said Sonia. “Self-Help’s financial coaching program is unique because we are able to provide access to asset- and credit-building products on the spot. Typically, financial coaches have to refer their clients to financial institutions for accounts and loans. Our coaches can provide coaching services and give access to products all in one session.”
In Wilson, we recently hired Christopher Edwards as a full-time Financial Coach. Christopher got his mortgage broker license when he was still in college, and he brings experience in the finance industry with mortgages and other products and services. Christopher says his commitment to our members is “to help you achieve your financial goals. Together, we’ll team up in one-on-one sessions to identify solutions for your success. Give me the opportunity to serve you, and I will work with you every step of the way.”
Christopher has already begun to meet with some clients, and his services will be fully ramped up by next month.
Donnetta has been working in our Charlotte branch on Providence Road, but soon she will move to our branch at 431 Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte—formerly First Legacy Community Credit Union, a local credit union that joined the Self-Help family earlier this year.
Members in all of our locations have access to financial coaching through our trusted nonprofit partner, GreenPath. GreenPath offers free credit coaching, online financial resources and other money management support services that we make available to all Self-Help members.